Bharat and Russia have now realised that in their quest for global power status, it is imperative that they restore the climate of intimate friendship.
Narendra Modi’s Russia visit was a master stroke in the configuration of Bharat’s foreign policy. The speculations were hyping that Bharat is completely drifted from Russia and tilted to American side. This visit is a reminder of balancing the boat and recognising the all weather friendship throughout the tumultuous phase of world politics. It was Russia which held the hand of Bharat on Kashmir issue when most of the countries were pulling Bharat’s leg. It backed and supported Bharat when the whole world was hauling against Bharat when it went for nuclear tests in 1998. It stood by us during Kargil war. It helped us with our nuclear power plants and submarine projects and in the defence sector. Bharat also stood on the side of Russia during its difficult times. Bharat covertly supported Russia’s Afghan invasion of 1979, and didn’t join the chorus when it annexed Crimea last year. Bharat through silent diplomatic gesture supported the Russian venture into Syria.
This visit has created new space and opportunities to work together in the fast changing dynamics of world politics. There are many hot spots where they can constitute a joint venture and develop faith and understanding of each other’s limitations. Bharateeya PM was vocal and candid in accepting this fraternity during the Masco visit. He said, “I am pleased to see where our relationship is today. Russia is the first country with which we concluded a formal agreement on strategic partnership, which has since been elevated to the level of ‘special and privileged’ strategic partnership in recognition of our multifaceted bilateral engagement. I see positive signs of further growth owing to complementarities of both the countries.” Modi sketched the line of friendship. He outlined, “Energy is a sector where we can do a lot more. Russia is one of the world’s top sources for hydrocarbon resources and Bharat is one of the world’s largest importers. We have had significant investments in this sector. Bharat’s global re-engagement in nuclear energy has begun with Russia. Energy security is critical to Bharat’s economic development and Russia is a key partner in this area.”
New dynamics of world politics for both the countries is multilateral agreements and forum. China is not willing to move on the track of multilateralism. Russia and Bharat can think of strengthening the multilateral forums of denying the Chinese dictatorial approach. Modi has accepted this truth and outlined during the discussion with media, “A strong international partnership has been the hallmark of our relations. Russian support in international forums, including in the UN Security Council, through the decades is deeply valued in Bharat. Today, our international cooperation has widened. We work together in a number of international forums, including BRICS, Shanghai Cooperation Organization (where Russian support helped in a decision on Bharat’s full membership this year), G20 and East Asia Summit.”
Through this visit a number of agreements were signed between the two countries. First the strong chemistry was being developed between the two strong leaders. They shook hand with confidence. Russian president Vladimir Putin decided to further deepen the old strategic and economic ties with Bharat. For the first time a foreign government agreed to prop up Modi Government’s Make in India’s programme by undertaking to manufacture strategic weapon systems in the country under that flagship programme. Russia will construct, in partnership with Bharateeya companies, 12 more nuclear power plants in two different sites in Bharat. This will be part of the ‘Make in India’ programme. On-going work at the controversial Kudankulam plant in Tamil Nadu, Putin said at a joint press conference with Modi, will be completed soon. There was convergence of views on many leading world issues. Russia is willing to do business in defence and a hydrocarbon despite our natural alliance with the US. It is a tribute to pragmatism. Both the leaders also expressed to resolve the Syrian crisis.
Bharat-Russia trade declined radically. It is a great concern for both countries. This concern was aired number of times when the leaders of two countries met. C Raja Mohan, analyst and scholar wrote, “We need to ponder over why our economies should be satisfied with the current level of trade volumes, and emphasising that trade levels between the two states were a poor reflection of the ‘close political ties.” Partly because Bharat has a growing strategic relationship with the US after the path-breaking civilian nuclear deal. And partly because Russia under a resurgent Vladimir Putin challenged the US and Europe, and became closer to China.
But things will change. The Bharat-Russia economic relationship has tended to follow the new course of oil and gas and military equipments. Bharat’s reliance on Russian military hardware has continued over the last two decades since the dissolution of the USSR. And for Russia, Bharat is an important client. Russia is also Bharat’s primary supplier of conventional systems. The private sector involvement will enrage the trade deficit between the two countries. This is a good beginning to bridge the whopping gap of trade. Until now, all defence cooperation between the two has been entirely in the public sector. Both the countries are at the crossroads of a major transformation—with China’s growth slowing, Bharat is going to be the bright spark, and it needs to leverage its position to gain technologically and strategically. For Russia, it makes sense to strengthen its relations with Bharat more than ever before. The stakes for both are enormous.
Both Bharat and Russia have now realised that in their quest for global power status, it is imperative that they restore the climate of intimate friendship. Russia needs Bharat as a market for its goods to bypass Western sanctions imposed after its power push in Ukraine. Bharat needs Russia because it can meet its abundant energy requirements at a cost-effective price. Despite expanding its defence purchases from the US, Israel and Europe, Bharat still needs to collaborate with Russia to master future technology including for space. It improves Bharat’s bargaining power when it negotiates arms sales with the West. Russia can be a major market for Bharateeya industry such as pharmaceuticals, manufactured goods, dairy products, bovine meat and frozen seafood. Geopolitically, Russia continues to be a balancing force against any designs China and Pakistan may have in our region. Also, Bharat’s growing strength will benefit Russia when it experiences the unbearable pressure of Chinese expansion in Central Asia.
There is much at stake between the two countries in terms of strategic partnership, economics, defence, technology and trade. There is no denying that the Russians have helped Bharat in many crucial areas. With greater understanding and cooperation, the two countries have everything to gain through a strong partnership. That is why Modi’s visit of Russia is going to redesign the world politics to a large extent. The cooperation between the two countries is not limited to bilateral sheet but to reconfigure the world politics. With this imagination the two strong leaders of world are determined to move together. This fraternity will be closely monitored by other powers.
Dr Satish Kumar (The writer is a Head Centre for International Relations, Central University of Jharkhand, Ranchi)